virus: Memetics: science or metaphor?

Marek Jedlinski (
Sun, 17 Mar 1996 19:48:53 +0100 (MEZ)


I got infected with MetaMeme - that of memetics itself - solely
through the 'Net. I've so far read quite a few papers on the topic
that are available on-line, but there are still a couple of points
I am not quite clear about. I will appreciate any informed feedback.

(I posted the following request to alt.memetics some weeks ago, but
the propagation of news out of my little damp net.hole over here is
dismal beyond excuse. I received no reply and I suppose that no-one
really read this... Since then I've found Virus and I hope it is not
entirely inappropriate to ask my question here again?)

a) Why ALT.memetics and not SCI.memetics? I mean this in a figurative
rather than "administrative" sense - what is the scientific "status"
of memetics? Does it belong to the fuzzy set of "alternative" sciences,
or is it recognized as a science in its own right, so to speak?

(Ahem, while I don't particularly like binary thinking, I suspect
that the above is a prime example of such. Well, I've been recently
trying to spread the memetic infection among unsuspecting minds
around me, and I need to be clear about the issue, at least to have
an idea about what the [un]conventional net.wisdom says in answer to
the question above. I don't expect unanimity on this, nohow...)

b) Various definitions of 'meme' are not consistent as to the basic
analogy that underlies the whole idea: while etymologically derived
from "gene" (and I assume that this is how Dawkins originally
meant it), 'meme' is equally often compared to a virus. How far
can these analogies be taken, and is either of them more productive
than the other? They surely overlap to an extent, but what happens
_beyond_ that extent is what interests me. When introducing the
tenets of memetics to people who've never heard about them before,
I often encounter a response along the lines of "Yeah, this is a
neat metaphor, I can see it now... You do mean it as a *metaphor*,
don't you?" Uh, do we? (I thought not :) Can the 'genetic' and
'viral' analogies be completely freely interchanged? If so, then
we would really have just two competing metaphors rather than a
single working model, isomorphic with a natural process, that is
the production and dissemination of ideas.

Would anyone care to produce and disseminate a little, about this?

Marek Jedlinski

M'Eniac, Episcopos-in-Chief, Church of the Whole Shebang
Caution: This message originated solely in my brain, which 
has no authority to speak for other parts of my body.